Prep basketball academy now in second season in Springfield

Post-graduate program plays a challenging schedule

Rodrick Pierce and Joe Hampton spent two years laying the groundwork for the Southwest Ohio Preparatory Academy in Springfield. Their nephews, searching for opportunities in college basketball after graduation from high school, had bad experiences at a prep school in South Carolina, and they thought they could do better.

In the spring of 2020, they started recruiting players. In the fall of that same year, they launched the team.

Now the second team is in the middle of the season, and Pierce likes what Southwest Ohio Prep has accomplished on and off the court. The nine players live in a house together on Woodlawn Avenue adjacent to Wittenberg University’s campus, and they hold most of their practices at the Springfield YMCA.

“We wanted to make sure that our living conditions were up to par,” Pierce said. “You can’t just stick 15 guys in a three-bedroom house and expect them to kind of coexist properly. We also wanted to make sure that any young man who needed academic assistance with eligibility for the NCAA, that we had things in place to help them. We didn’t want to just be all about basketball. We wanted to make sure that we were a faith-based program and to help these young man learn who God is and help them understand, ‘Hey, there’s something bigger out here than just basketball.’”

Pierce also wanted to make sure the players are well fed. That was one of the complaints his nephew had in South Carolina. He once had to send him $50 so he could go get something to eat.

The team plays a challenging schedule that includes long trips in a van. A recent photo on the program’s Facebook page showed players asleep in the back seats during a road trip.

“Post Grad is a grind and if you are not prepared for it the grind will eat you alive,” the text with the photo read. “This is what many of these young men will experience next year in college. Bus/van rides for hours to play games. We really get them ready.”

Mostly, the point of spending a year with the program is to find a place at the next level. That’s been difficult during the pandemic because players are spending extra years in college, taking up scholarships that would have been used by members of the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes. Southwest Ohio Prep uses social media to publicize the players, sharing highlight videos and stats.

“Coaches at all levels take a look at our page for clips of our young men,” read one recent Twitter post. “We have size, shooting, ball handlers, shot makers, defenders, shot creators, and finishers. Most importantly we have high character young men!”

The first team saw Chris Spears, of Springfield, Mass., sign with Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. He’s starting as a freshman.

Other Southwest Ohio Prep alums who are playing college basketball this year are: Cortez Howlett, of Kansas City (Kansas City Community College); Bryce Whitlow, of Toledo (Adrian College, Mich.); Jason Hall and Malik Tansmore, of Indianapolis (Glen Oaks Community College).

The 6-foot-9, 295-pound Darius Gaddy, of Atlanta, had opportunities to play Division I basketball but chose to play football for the Toledo Rockets.

Players from the current team come from all over the country. The roster includes: Wendell Hughes, guard, Cincinnati; Iyahsu Adams, guard, Cincinnati; Kameron Crump, forward, Memphis, Tenn.; Anthony Watkins, guard, Kansas City; Tong Maiwen-Diing, forward, Auburn, Maine; Jamonte Smith, guard, Roanoke, Va.; Quinton McCoullough, forward, Urbana, Ill; Kevin Mimms, guard, Indianapolis; Alex Wilkins, forward, Cincinnati; and Andrew Pipersburgh, forward, Los Angeles.

Pierce is a graduate of Princeton High School in Cincinnati and played at Mount St. Joseph University, where he was later an assistant coach for six years. He has a long coaching career at the high school level in Cincinnati.

Matt Yinger, of Springfield, is Pierce’s assistant coach. The team also has a regional recruiting coordinator: Danny Zuchak, who’s a junior guard at Finlandia University in Michigan.

Hampton, the co-founder of the team, died unexpectedly Oct. 2. Pierce said it was not COVID-19 related. Hampton had been helping coach Southwest Ohio Prep and also working as as assistant coach with the Springfield High School girls team. A South High School graduate who attended Glenville State College, Hampton was 49.

The team was preparing to play in a preseason event near Atlanta when Pierce received word of Hampton’s death. His wife convinced him to keep the team there.

“I was ready to pack up and come back to Springfield,” Pierce said. “I’m like I don’t even want to play. She was just like, ‘Hey, what would Joe tell you? He would say we’ve got to play these games. Joe wouldn’t want you to just come down here and not play.’”

Southwest Ohio Prep has played games at Clark State and Wilberforce. Most of its games are on the road. Pierce has tried to create a difficult schedule, though it’s hard to get invited to the big-name events.

Pierce said Southwest Ohio Prep has played nationally-known prep teams such as Hargrave Military Academy, Fork Union, Mount Zion and Hamilton Heights. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose. It’s about competing. Coaches are watching the individual players.

“John Calipari is not going to come up to Rod Pierce and say, ‘Hey, coach, you beat Hargrave and you looked good doing it. I want to offer you an assistant coaching position all my staff,’” Pierce said. “He doesn’t care anything about Rod Pierce. But what he does care about are those young men in our program. Can they fit my system? How does he look against elite level competition? So for us to be sitting around playing what I call the mom and pop preps of the world doesn’t do anything for us. What we want to do is play the best competition that we can play and get film on that. The way that we win games is at the end of the season if every single one of our young men in our program has gone on to college. Whether that be Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA, JUCO, NCCAA, USCAA, it doesn’t matter.”

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